Piloncillo is an unrefined cane sugar that is popularly
used in Mexican cooking (for example, the pumpkin and cinnamon soup
recipe from our Holiday Food issue). piloncillo4.jpg The hard sugar, which can be used in
place of brown sugar in most recipes, predates the arrival of the
Spanish. It’s a well rehearsed process, then, of squeezing juice
from sugar canes, boiling it into a thick substance, and then
pouring it into molds. There it hardens into a compact cone, which
is where the Spanish name for the sugar comes from, as in “little

We love piloncillo, which is also known as panela or
panocha and comes in a light (blanco) and dark (oscuro) variety,
for the unique flavor it gives dishes. Aside from general
sweetness, piloncillo adds terrifically caramely, almost smokey
elements. The drawback is that it can be hard to use. (As a
replacement, some suggest using brown sugar and a couple teaspoons
of molasses, but we beg to differ.)

We either shave with a serrated knife or grate it. Although if
you’re preparing a soup or other recipe in which the sugar is
melted down, you can simply let the sugar dissolve in the stock.
You may wish to break it up a bit before hand, to expedite the

So give piloncillo a try this holiday season, when it comes to
cooking anything that usually calls for brown sugar. We’re pretty
sure you’ll enjoy the flavor change. It’s lasted for thousands of
years, so there must be something right about piloncillo!

The Details: Piloncillo can be purchased in one
of the many Mexican markets around town and, at times, in the
ethnic food aisles of major grocery stores. Or order online by
clicking here.


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